Tragedy in Japan hits close to home - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Students try to connect with their exchange families in Japan

By Julia Fello - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) -- Three days since the big earthquake hit Japan, thousands are still missing.

This tragedy is hitting close to home for many people living in Wisconsin Dells.

For the past two decades - they've shared a "sister-city" relationship with a northern city there, hit hard by the quake.

The students who traveled there say this was much more than an experience, many say they consider the people who live in Iwaizumi, Japan their family, the hardest part is waiting hear they're safe.

"The house of my family collapsed by a tsunami, I prepare for the difficulty from now on," said Jan Hess, social studies teacher.

Jan Hess, is reading an e-mail she received from a Japanese exchange student, who survived the magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

For the past 20 years - people of Wisconsin Dells have opened their hearts - and homes to exchange students from Iwaizumi near the quake's epicenter.

"They lost their whole home she's beside herself they got out of the house, but the whole house is gone, they have nothing," said Hess.

Right now - she and her students are holding onto their great memories.

"They're all nice they'd stop on the corner of the street to help you or give directions," said Paige Lindner, Wisconsin Dells H.S. sophomore.

"It's really neat opportunity to get together and you know someone on the other side is connected to you," said Alec Bernander, Wisconsin Dells H.S. senior.

Wisconsin Dells students Paige Lindner and Alec Bernander say taking a trip to Iwaizumi was unforgettable.

"There were cities out along the coast and where we staying it was along the mountains," said Bernander.

Now they hope their host families are okay.

"Knowing 200 thousand people are going to be relocated that's going to be a big issue as well," said Bernander.

"I hope they can reconstruct their lives so when the next group goes there its similar to what we had," said Lindner.

Thousands of miles away - countless families in the Dells are still waiting to hear from those close to their hearts.

"They call us her American family and that's how close they are with the people in Japan, and we're their families," said Bob Pacl, retired teacher.

More than 200 students at the Wisconsin Dells have traveled in the exchange program.

The students plan to start a fundraiser to help with the relief efforts in Japan.

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